It was late July as Hans stepped into the temperate waters of the Aegean Sea. He thought of the thousands of years of history in this part of the world as he waded into deeper waters. He was on holiday, visiting friends in Izmir, Turkey. He had never been to this part of Europe and was pleased to be here.
His foot embraced an object buried just beneath the surface of the sand. He thought it a rock at first, but the sharpness caused him to stop. He scraped the sand away with his foot, then bent over and reached down to the sea bottom. The sharp object was the corner of some kind of handle, or so he thought. He was able to place his hand through and around the object and pulled. Nothing happened.
He smiled to himself, thinking he had stumbled on an ancient treasure. He continued pushing the sand away with his foot. It was indeed a handle attached to something. He wasn’t sure what it might be.
He knew he would never find it again if he went to shore to get assistance. He saw his friend, Ulla, sitting on the beach. Uwe, her husband, was nowhere in sight. He shouted, “Ulla, wo ist Uwe? Sag ihm, es soll zu mir kommen.” Ulla got up and shook her head. She didn’t understand. Hans repeated himself. She pointed in the direction of the food vendors down the beach. Hans looked and saw Uwe walking toward Ulla, holding a large box. Lunch he assumed. He hollered to Uwe, gesturing for him to join him. Uwe gave the box to Ulla and wadded into the water.
“What?” he shouted as he approached Hans.
“I’ve found something and need your help.”
Uwe laughed, “You’re acting like a treasure hunting tourist.”
“Perhaps. Reach down and tell me what you think.”
Uwe reached down, then stood straight up and grinned. “I think you may have found a treasure.”
“You think?” Hans did not trust his friend, the eternal prankster.
“I do indeed, but the tide will be coming soon. We’ll have to work fast to dislodge it.”
Twenty-five minutes later they pulled the object to a standing position. “It’s some kind of a jar,” Hans looked at Uwe.
“It’s an Amphora.”
“An Amphora. The ancients used to transport wine and grain in these things. I’m surprised this one is so close to shore and in one piece. It appears to be sealed. Come on, let’s drag it to shore.”
“What have you got?” Ulla stepped into the water to give them a hand.
“Uwe said it’s an Amphora,” Hans gasped. He was out of breath from dragging the jug.
“Maybe it’s wine,” Ulla smiled. “Just in time for lunch.”
“Could be,” Uwe agreed. “It’s heavy enough.”
“I’m hoping for gold coins. Wouldn’t that be swell?” Hans laughed. “Should we open it?”
“No, let’s cover it with a blanket. If anyone else sees it, we’ll have a crowd in no time. When everyone leaves we'll carry it to the car.”
“Hadn’t thought of that,” Hans looked in both directions.
“Lunch is ready, might as well eat while we wait,” Ulla laid a blanket on the amphora and set the box with lunch on top.
They speculated as to its contents. Wine or grain seemed to be the most logical. Hans held out for gold coins, “The neck is large enough for coins.”
“Yes, but did you hear anything rattling around when we brought it to shore?”
Hans was crestfallen, “you’re probably right.”
As the afternoon shadows deepened, the three friends moved silently toward their car. Ulla and Hans lead the way, each holding one of the handles. Uwe followed, holding the bottom of the Amphora. They kept it covered with a blanket until they placed it in the trunk of the car.
“What are we going to do with it? Ulla looked at Hans and Uwe.
“Open it up, I guess,” Hans smiled with anticipation.
“Outside would be best, just in case it is wine. No need to have it spill indoors,”
“A wise decision,” Ulla agreed with a tinge of sarcasm and smiled at her clumsy husband.
Hans grunted as they set it down in the garden, “Maybe it will be more valuable sealed.”
“Where do you plan on selling it? eBay? If the local Antiquities people find out about this thing, they will be all over us claiming it belongs to them. No, I say let’s open it and see what we have.”
“I agree,” Ulla mused as she eyed the container.
“Okay. So, how are we going to do it? Carefully, I hope,” Hans continued to have value in mind.
As they inspected the sealed stopper at the top of the bottle, Uwe suggested, “I’ve got a sharp chisel. If we chip a little bit away at the seal, we may be able to gain entrance without damaging it.” No one disagreed. Uwe disappeared and returned with the chisel.
An hour later he had managed to chip all around the sealed cap. He began again, only this time he inserted the chisel into the groove he had made and tapped the chisel lightly. By the time he reached the halfway mark they heard a soft ‘crack’ and the sound of air being sucked into the bottle.
“It’s open,” gasped Hans. He placed his hand over the stopper and gently twisted it. “It’s moving,” he looked at the others wide-eyed. He continued twisting until it fell into his hand. “There!” he held it up.
Uwe looked into the neck of the Amphora, “Looks like a rag stuffed in there.” He reached in with his thumb and index finger. As he pulled the material, suddenly it flew out of its own accord followed by a trailing gust of a cloudy red mist. Everyone gasped and fell backward. The amphora rocked on its side and rolled toward the edge of the swimming pool.
“Holy crap!” Hans shouted, “What was that?” Everyone scrambled to their feet and quickly moved away from the spectacle unfolding before them. The red cloudy mist continued to pour forth in ever increasing density and volume, forming a giant cloud over the Amphora.
“What’s that smell?”
“Sulfur, my dear.”
“Oh, my God,” Hans looked frightened.
As the red mist cleared, the figure of a huge dark skinned muscular man began to appear. Hans gasped, “It’s the Devil, and he’s wearing red tights.”
“It has to be a genie,” declared Uwe. “He looks too good to be the devil. Say something to it.”
“You say something to it,” Hans frowned.
Ulla stepped forward, “Hello big guy, who are you?”
The huge man turned with a jerk, put his fists on his hips, looked down, and grinned at Ulla. Uwe and Hans shrank back while Ulla stood her ground.
“Ah, iyi kadınım. Ben Ali Baba oluş oğluyum Elyas Rasti?” the huge man barked, and licked his lips.
“What did he say?” Hans whispered.
“He said his name was Ali Baba, son of Elyas Rasti. He wants to know who we are.”
“Well tell him for heaven’s sake,” Uwe shrank back further.
“I understand Turkish but I don’t speak it so good. My English will have to do.”
“Tell him in any language you like, but say something. I don’t think we want to keep him waiting,” Hans’ voice broke from stress.
Ulla looked up into the fierce face of Ali Baba, “I am Ulla. The small and meek. We three found you in the sea.”
“Oh, Mistress,” Ali Baba fell to his knees, clasped his hands and bowed to Ulla. “It was you who released me from this wretched bottle.”
“No, it was them,” Ulla pointed to Hans and Uwe.
“Masters, I am indebted to all of you.”
“Now what do we do?” Hans whispered.
“If it’s a genie, he should be able to grant us some wishes. You found the bottle. You ask him.” Uwe stared at Hans.
“I’m not going to ask him anything,” quaked Hans.
“Relax, boys. I’ll handle this,” Ulla rebuked them with her confidence. “So, Ali Baba, if you are a genie, can you grant us wishes.”
Ali Baba arose and growled, “I am no genie, I am Ali Baba son of Elyas Rasti, the merchant.”
“Yeah, yeah, we know all that, but can you grant any wishes?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know,” Ulla snapped, “How did you get in that bottle in the first place?”
“Take it easy, Ulla,” Uwe whispered. “We don’t want to make him mad.”
“Cassim, my elder brother,” Ali Baba growled. “That son of a flea bitten camel put me in this evil jug.”
“And what was your sin?”
Ali Baba rose even higher and growled, “There was no sin. May his bowls burn in hell fire for an eternity. No, for two eternities.”
“Well, you must have done something to anger him.”
“I found a treasure and did not tell him about it.”
“He was jealous. I may have been richer than him. That old dried up chicken liver.”
“Nevertheless, here you are, trapped in a jug. Old chicken liver must have been very powerful to accomplish that.”
“No, it was his wife, that daughter of a scorpion.”
“Well, you’re in a jug so you must be a genie. And genies are supposed to be able to grant wishes.”
Ali Baba thought for a moment. “Let me find out. The dark angel who watches over me will know.” Ali Baba disappeared in a puff of red smoke.
Hans and Uwe came out from their hiding place, “Where’d he go?”
“He went to confer with a dark angel to find out if he can grant wishes,” Ulla rolled her eyes.
“A dark angel? You’re kidding?” Hans gazed at the red mist.
“No, I’m not kidding. Evidently this dark angel watches over him. Lord only knows why.”
“Dark angel.” Uwe’s eyes widened, “That doesn’t sound good.”
“Well, that’s what he said. I don’t know about you two, but I’m going to make something to eat. Who knows when he’ll return, if he’ll return?” Ulla walked toward the house.
“We’ve got his jug,” Hans reasoned, “he can’t go very far.”
“You’re right,” Uwe smiled, “let’s go eat.”
They both turned away from the amphora and walked into the house.
As the hall clock struck the midnight hour, Ulla sat up wide-eyed. She nudged Uwe.
“He’s back.” Ulla threw her legs over the side of the bed.
“What?” Uwe sat up with a start. “How do you know?”
Uwe sniffed the air, “You’re right. Where’s Hans?”
“I’m here,” came a voice from a shadow in the hallway door.
“Ulla, where are you going?” Uwe stood up.
“Where to you think? The garden.”
“Wait, we’ll go with you.”
“Ali Baba,” Ulla called out as she stepped into the garden.
“Mistress,” Ali Baba knelt down and bowed.
“None of that. Arise oh great and wonderful Ali Baba.” She threw a sidelong glance at Hans and Uwe. “Tell me, are you able to grant wishes?”
“Yes, Mistress. I may grant one wish.”
“Only one? I thought the going rate was three.”
“Only one, mistress,” he was firm.”
“So what’s it to be?” Uwe crept up behind Ulla.
“One wish,” she groaned.
“Only one?” Hans joined Uwe.
“Only one.” Ulla turned to her companions, “I have a wish prepared. Do either of you have one?”
“No, no, I don’t have one,” Uwe gushed, “How about you, Hans?”
“No. Ulla, you go ahead.”
Ulla turned to Ali Baba and held up a map she pulled from her pocket. “See this?”
“This is a map of the Middle East. Here we are.” She pointed with her index finger. “We are too close for comfort to all the conflicts going on all through this area. My wish – I want peace. I want them to stop fighting one another and live in peace forever.
Ali Baba took the map, looked at Ulla, then stepped into the pool and knelt down.
“Oh my God, he’s floating,” Hans was slack jawed.
“How cool is that?” Uwe smiled.
They watched in silent as Ali Baba floated in the moonlight on the surface of the swimming pool, meditating on the map. Finally, he got up and approached Ulla.
“Mistress, these countries have been at war with one another for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Do you have any idea of what it would take to bring peace to these regions? It would be a monumental task requiring countless souls to intervene and negotiate peace. No, I don’t believe this can be accomplished. It is out of the question. You ask too much of me. You’ll have to make another wish.”
“Well, that’s a nice kettle of fish.” Ulla stared at Ali Baba, then turned to her companions, “I can’t think of anything else awesome enough to wish for. Hans, you found the bottle. You make the wish.”
Hans frowned and stepped forward, “Ali Baba.”
“Master,” Ali Baba bowed. “Your wish is my command.”
“Ah, yes. Well, we’ll see about that,” Hans paused as he prepared himself. After a minute of thought, he began. “Ali Baba, I’ve been married and divorced three times. All of my wives had the same grievances. They said I was insensitive, uncaring, and unable to satisfy them in bed. So, my wish is to know and understand women in every way possible, along with the knowledge and technique to make their life in the bedroom a little bit of heaven here on earth.”
Ulla tried to hold her silence but finally burst out laughing. “I’m sorry, Hans. It just struck me so funny I couldn’t help myself.”
“Very funny, Ulla. Your sister, Hilda, tortured me our entire marriage with her knit picking on what I was doing wrong. If you can’t behave, you’ll have to leave.” Hans turned to Ali Baba, “Well?”
Ali Baba bowed his head and retreated to the swimming pool to meditate. They watched him for the longest time. As morning twilight edged over the horizon, Ali Baba returned and stood in front of Hans. His pensive expression was encouraging. Then a deep frown and intensive gaze indicated he was about to speak. Hans held his breath.
Ali Baba looked beyond Hans and smiled. “Mistress, may I please see that map again?”